Runner Bean Varieties

Runner Bean Varieties

Read an introduction to runner bean varieties here.

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About Runner Bean Varieties

Runner beans are a popular vegetable to grow, with a choice of red or white flowered varieties that produce delicate flowers from July onwards that herald the setting of the bean pods. The beautiful flowers are a sufficient reason to grow the vegetable, providing a dramatic cascade of colour as the plants grow up wigwams or other supports, whether on an allotment or at home in a vegetable garden. There are also dwarf varieties of runner beans suitable for growing in pots on a patio.

Runner beans are typically eaten young when the bean pods are at about 25 centimetres or 8 inches in length, before the beans have started to swell inside the pods and the shell of the pods have started to yellow. The bean pods are topped and tailed, and then cut into two centimetre, or one inch slices, and added to stir fries, pasta dishes, soups, curries, and casseroles.

When eating and preparing runner beans, a common problem is the pods developing strings along the outside edges that make them less enjoyable to eat. There are runner bean varieties that are bred to avoid this problem and are referred to as ‘stringless’ varieties. Strings can also be avoided by picking the pods young. Picking young bean pods will also encourage the plants to set more beans, increasing the size of the harvest.

Runner beans are originally from South America, and are frost sensitive plants that will not survive cold nights. However, runner beans perform less well in hot dry summers, as although the plants may flower, hot nights may considerably reduce the number of flowers that set bean pods. To help overcome this problem, runner bean varieties have been developed that have been crossed with French beans (that are more reliable). Self pollinating varieties of runner beans can have higher conversion rates of flowers setting bean pods, leading to larger harvests. In dry summers, watering bean plants at night to avoid dry roots can boost harvest size.

If left on the plant, runner beans will mature inside the pods to provide seed for next year’s harvest. The beans are edible, but they must be cooked by boiling vigorously for at least 10 minutes to remove toxins that can cause food poisoning (like red kidney beans), and then simmer longer to soften. Dried beans may have more toxins than fresh beans, and will need additional soaking for 12-24 hours before cooking. Young bean pods have less toxins than mature beans, but it is always advisable to cook runner beans thoroughly (by following a recipe from a trusted source) and never eat them raw. This is an introduction to cooking runner beans, the amount of toxins will differ per variety so you may want to check this before growing (and cooking).